221. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

The attached memorandum of conversation between Cy Vance and Lau should be read in the light of this further report on what Dobrynin had to say about reconnaissance.2 When I raised reconnaissance, he [Page 653] asked: Did they understand fully your position on reconnaissance? I said that I had no doubt that they did understand it. It was clear that their initial instructions after the bombing halt forbade firing on reconnaissance aircraft.

He then asked: What was Lau’s reaction when Vance raised this matter with him in Paris ? I said that he took notes and agreed to inform his government.

He then asked: Why do you think they are now shooting at your aircraft when they did not shoot in the first days after the bombing halt?

I said that I did not know, but that he might take the trouble to find out.

Against this background, the Vance/Lau conversation attached suggests that they are going to test us pretty hard on reconnaissance.

You will also note that they say that no North Vietnamese troops are involved at the DMZ—an acknowledgment of that condition—but they do not take responsibility for the NLF. They are pressing us here to some purpose, and I am not sure which of the following it is:

  • —to establish how determined we are about reconnaissance;
  • —to force us to talk to the NLF;
  • —to make us reduce the intensity of reconnaissance;
  • —to put pressure on us to get Saigon to Paris.

In any case, they are pushing us.3



Situation Report by the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Walsh)4

Cy Vance called at 1:05 p.m. to report on his conversation with Lau

Lau opened the discussions with a reference to Vance’s statement to him on November 11 about the violations of the DMZ on the previous [Page 654] day. (Cy had given him specific details and a map of the positions of the US forces and the firing units.) Lau said that he was authorized to state that artillery had not been fired from the North of the DMZ to any position South of the DMZ; therefore there was no shelling on the 10th. In regard to any shelling or mortaring by NLF that is their responsibility.

He said that our remarks yesterday in Washington5 were merely a pretext for further delays and a justification of our aggression.

He then raised the subject of the reconnaissance flights. He said that there were daily flights including alerts in Hanoi. This is a violation of the security of the DRV and acts of force. He urged that there be immediate stops in these flights in accordance with the spirit of the agreement.

Vance responded along the following lines. In respect to the November 10 situation, the evidence indicated the presence of the 27th DRV Regiment in the DMZ. Even assuming the DRV forces were not in the DMZ we would not accept Lau’s assertion that the NLF had a free hand. He called to Lau’s attention the latter’s statements in the course of October that if the bombing were stopped the DMZ would be respected.

In respect to the question of reconnaissance we had chosen our words very carefully. This was not an act of force. We believed that they had fully understood what our words meant. We would continue our reconnaissance flights and if they were fired upon we would take the necessary defensive actions. This could create a dangerous situation which we assume neither side would want.

In the last meeting Lau had mentioned an alleged violation by a US naval vessel of DRV waters. We had carefully checked his accusation and could state that no US vessel had penetrated the territorial waters of the DRV on that date.

Vance rejected Lau’s charge that the US was an aggressor and forcefully stated that the true aggressor was the DRV and the NLF.

Lau then responded: He said you think you have a right to infringe on the sovereignty of the DRV; this is serious and dangerous. We will strike back at the reconnaissance flights. The US must bear responsibility. There is no international law that would tolerate the dangers to the DRV brought about by such actions. These acts would not improve the chances of peace. If the US continues, the DRV will use all necessary means of defense. He then rejected Vance’s statement about the alleged US penetration of DRV waters.

[Page 655]

In respect to the DMZ he again stated that there was a clear difference between the actions of the DRV and the NLF. The U.S. would have to speak to the NLF about this matter.

Vance then stated that reconnaissance does not endanger the security of the DRV. The only problem in this matter is the firing by DRV. Until we approach closer to peace, reconnaissance will be necessary and will continue. We had stopped all bombing and all acts of force against the territories of the DRV and there was no danger to the security of the DRV involved.

In respect to the alleged naval incident our statement was fully accurate. He would, however, be willing to receive any further information on this matter that Lau might wish to provide.

With respect to the DMZ, Vance said we recognize no distinction between actions of the DRV forces and actions of the NLF. He then asked Lau if the DRV had withdrawn all its forces from the DMZ. Lau responded affirmatively.

Vance reported that the conversation throughout was orderly and was not heated. He considered Lau’s remark that no DRV forces were in the DMZ as indicative that they recognized an obligation in respect to the Zone. However, there is a considerable problem involved in the suggestion that the forces in the DMZ are NLF. Vance further noted that there clearly is a most serious problem in the offing in respect to reconnaissance flights.

He will file as soon as possible a detailed cable.6

John P. Walsh
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VI [1 of 2]. Secret; HARVAN Double Plus. The notation “ps” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. See Document 218.
  3. In a memorandum to the President, November 15, 4 p.m., Rostow listed the President’s options to respond to the DRV’s “test” on reconnaissance and the DMZ, but noted that in the end the decision would be a political one: “Do we wish to react to the rather unpleasant talk in Paris about reconnaissance and the DMZ violations by this show of determination—or not?” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VI [1 of 2])
  4. Secret; Nodis; HARVAN Double Plus.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 218.
  6. Telegram 23918/Delto 955 from Paris, November 14. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968) In telegram 23983/Delto 964 from Paris, November 15, the delegation wrote: “Reflecting upon Vance’s talk of last night with Lau, we have some tentative reactions on DMZ as follows: A. The DRV has confirmed the existence of an agreement with respect to the DMZ but is probing to see the limits of our understanding of the agreement. B. The DRV has made its opening move to try to draw distinction between the NVA forces and the NLF forces in the South. They will continue to try to press the alleged separation of responsibility in an attempt to push us toward talks with the NLF soon. C. With respect to Lau’s statement that there are no longer DRV troops in the DMZ, we should have all available information as soon as possible to be able to refute or confirm Lau’s statement.” (Ibid.)